A large study shows that consumption of sweeteners is associated with an increased risk of cancer

Due to the harmful effects of excessive sugar consumption (weight gain, cardiovascular disorders, tooth decay, etc.), the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting sugar intake to less than 10% of daily energy intake. Sweeteners (such as aspartame, acesulfame-K or sucralose) reduce the added sugar content and associated calories, while maintaining the sweet taste of the products. But the safety of these food additives is up for debate.

To assess the risks associated with their consumption, researchers from Inserm, Inrae, Sorbonne Paris Nord and Cnam, within the Nutrition Epidemiology (EREN) Research Team, analyzed health and sweetener consumption data from 102,865 French adults participating in the NutriNet-Santé study. Some have followed since 2009, and these adults have regularly completed questionnaires about their diet, including the names and brands of the products consumed.

After collecting information about cancer diagnoses during follow-up (2009-2021), statistical analyzes examined the association between sweetener consumption and cancer risk. According to the results of the study, published Thursday in the journal PLOS Medicine, people who ate the most sweeteners, especially aspartame and acesulfame-K, were more likely to develop cancer.

13% increase in risk in heavier users

“In this study, the highest consumers, other than average consumers, had a 13% increased risk of cancer compared to non-consumers,” said Dr. Mathilde Toffer, director of research at Inserm. Among these cancers, higher risks were observed for breast cancer and those related to obesity.

So far, studies have indicated that consumption of sugary drinks can promote cancer. But no one has specifically looked at the effects of sweeteners. Volunteers self-reported their medical history, socio-demographic data, and physical activities, as well as indications of their lifestyle and health status.

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“We cannot completely rule out biases related to consumer lifestyles, but taking multiple factors into account made it possible to reduce these biases,” explains Charlotte Debras, first author of the study. She adds that more research in other large-scale groups is needed to replicate and confirm these findings.

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